A Million Voices of Self-Doubt
Words by Addie Davis
If you are like me, you are a well-informed, involved, and present mother. You listen to all of those inspiring mom podcasts that exist to empower us as mothers and women. You read well-written blog posts and essays that hold in tension the powerful beauty and raw reality of motherhood. You order books from the leading experts (that you may or may not ever read) on effective potty training and constructive discipline and healthy sleep habits. At the same time, you are confident that while there is a lot of advice out there, you know your kids better than anyone. You know that ultimately you get to decide what is best for them.
If you are like me, you send hilarious, truth-filled (and sometimes slightly inappropriate) memes to your best friends as a reminder that motherhood is hard, but you’re in it together. You sit together over a glass of wine (or three), and assure each other that on your very worst days, your children still think you’re amazing; you laugh that maybe someday you’ll all look back on this era and remember it fondly; you know it’s OK to admit that you don’t enjoy every single moment of motherhood.
If you are like me, you revolt with your entire being against judgement and unsolicited opinions. You believe that motherhood is hard enough without believing the lie that we can never quite measure up. You know that it becomes unbearable when we allow that lie to become the voice that drives our decisions and lives.
But despite all of this — despite talking a big game of feminism and female empowerment, I have gone through seasons of being filled with self-doubt and fear on my best days; a deep sense of dread on my worst. Am I enough? Am I too much? Am I doing this thing called motherhood right? What is right, anyway?
“Do you think they’re wondering if I’m old enough to have a baby?” I whisper to my husband, glancing stealthily at the women around me. He and I sit next to each other in the waiting room of my OB-GYN’s office, about to see our daughter via ultrasound for the first time. I had been counting down the days and hours for this appointment, but one look at the group of women sitting in the waiting room was enough to send me spiraling. They appear older and wiser and more seasoned than me. I convince myself they must be judging me.
My husband gives me a loving, amused look.
“Babe. I hate to break it to you, but you’re 29 years old. Definitely old enough to have a baby.” He smiles and kisses my forehead, turning back to an article about guitar pedals he’s reading on his phone. Case closed, as far as he’s concerned.
Except, with my seemingly innocent question, I have offered up my previous sense of calm and joy on the altar of perceived public opinion.
I manage to stay present through the ultrasound — I cry for joy when I hear our daughter’s little heartbeat and lock eyes lovingly with my husband over the blurred image of her tiny, perfect face. I am thrilled to be starting a family with the man I love. But I walk out of the office that day imagining a slew of judgmental and snide opinions those more experienced women must be thinking, and I begin to wonder if they’re right. Maybe I’m not ready to be a mother. Maybe I never will be.
When my daughter is born, I’m thrown into a tailspin of postpartum depression and fear. I doubt my abilities every time I struggle to smoothly maneuver her into the Ergo; when I take her to the park, and wonder if people think I’m her nanny; when I fight a panic attack during most of my daily pumping sessions. A well-meaning family member suggests I change up our bedtime routine, and I freeze — have I been doing it wrong this entire time? A friend sends me an article about working mothers and the impact it can have on attachment, and I spend days obsessing over it — am I damaging my child by leaving her with loving, capable nannies?
I feel like an imposter in my own life — my identity and confidence easily stripped from me by a new piece of data, or by the voiceless face of a stranger.
I slowly start to realize, through a haze of sleep-deprivation and insecurity, that I am asking the wrong questions. Instead of, do they trust me? Or, can I be trusted? — I force myself to begin asking, do I trust myself? And what is it going to take for me to confidently assert my worth and value as a mother and as a woman?
I have confided in enough friends to know that I am not alone in this struggle. We make up an army of driven, resourceful mothers, determined to do the very best for our children. But it takes many of us a great deal of effort and convincing to feel like we are doing it right most days. The reasons for this are endless, and as unique as each woman’s own story.
There are a million voices competing for our allegiance and obedience, and it can be painstaking to learn how to quiet the judgement and believe the truth. These are often not the voices of wisdom or reason or kindness. They are not the voices of our biggest advocates and allies. These voices often do not know us at all.
Sometimes, they are the voice of that random stranger who gives you a dirty look as your child throws a tantrum in Starbucks, after being told they can’t have another cake pop. They are the “friend” who writes you off after not hearing back from you in a month because you are inundated with pumping and childcare schedules and survival. They are the sound of our own brokenness wreaking havoc in our souls, telling us we will never be good enough.
I have found that it is a daily, constant task to trust my own discernment, to listen to the people closest to me, and ignore everything else. I have had to learn how to seek out self-care instead of self-hatred, how to take a compliment, and how to weed out the truth from the lies. I have slowly but surely come to believe and trust that I am the best mother for my daughter, and that I am a damn good mom by any standard.
I am strengthened by the fact that my daughter is now three years old, and I can look back on our first season together and say, with boldness: I love my daughter deeply. Ergos and pumping almost killed me. My sweet girl is most likely going to be an only child, and I am at peace with that. Pursuing a career has proven to me that I can be both a strong, independent woman, and a present, loving mother.
And while each stage of motherhood will undoubtedly bring its own voices to silence, I finally know that mine can be trusted.
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About the Author:
Addie Davis lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and young daughter. She is a communications professional by day, and skilled bedtime routine negotiator by night. She can often be found in deep conversation with a good friend, making music with her husband and co-conspirator, or jumping on beds and building castles. She believes in the power of listening well, celebrating small victories, and choosing joy.